“So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body. And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil.” Ephesians 4:25-27 NLT
“I said I’m angry.”
“And I heard you the first time.”
The thing about anger is that it isn’t like an item you go to pick off the shelf. Apart from very rare instances that might require medical or spiritual intervention, no one chooses to be angry. Which implies that anger is usually the consequence of a set of internal or external circumstances. This also suggests that, just as anger isn’t the beginning of an issue, it clearly can’t be the end either.
So… “I am angry…because…”
The “because” is a very important aspect of the narrative, as it points to the source of the problem. And within the source – or somewhere around it – is usually the solution. But focusing or fixating on the feeling of anger, while for certain people therapeutic or valuable in retaining a sense of injustice or being wronged, doesn’t actually resolve the issue. It doesn’t deal with the cause of the uncomfortable and unpleasant feeling.
So “I’m angry because of the way your words came across” identifies both cause and effect: because of the manner in which your words came across, I am angry. Which identifies the solution to the problem: take better care of the presentation of your words and my anger issue (at least in this area) would be addressed. Smacking you across the face because I’m angry wouldn’t achieve the same objective. Neither will resorting to a verbal barrage or sulking. Those may punish the offender for the emotional reaction their actions have facilitated but none of them actually addresses – and thus removes – the cause of the pain.
So the most important thing to remember when angry is “why?” Why am I angry? And then what do I want to do with this feeling? If the answer is “punish” then I am in truth no better than the one who hurt me. If the answer is “resolve or correct” then I have to think long and hard about what the problem is and how to take steps to address it.
A lot of people act as though anger itself is a problem. That is far from the truth. Anger, like every other form of pain, was designed by God as an indicator that something is wrong. Yet that same God urges us to “be angry and do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26), which communicates that, while your anger might be the result of someone else’s actions, your response is 100% your responsibility.
So what to do when you’re angry? First of all, stop. Not stop being angry but literally stop. Take a moment – if you can, take five or ten – leave the room if you have to. But be honest with yourself. Sometimes we aren’t because we are ourselves embarrassed by the things which make us angry. We don’t want to be seen as too sensitive, too weak or too immature. But it is more mature (and requires more strength) to accept that something silly provokes you to anger than to continually live with that thing in order to appear to be above it. Sometimes we choose to be foolish in order to avoid appearing foolish. There’s only one guaranteed loser in that, and that’s you.
In the longer term, pray and seek help; talk to a sensible friend or confidante, someone who can keep you accountable or walk with you on the journey, about both your triggers and your desired outcome for your anger. Whatever you do, don’t lash out. As satisfying as that may seem at the time, once your anger subsides (and it usually does, even in the most angry of people), the damage of your reaction remains, and rather than addressing the relatively small problem which triggered the original episode, you create an even bigger one, one you aren’t always equipped to fix. So take a moment, pray, talk to someone, and be honest about it. Anger isn’t of itself a bad thing; it’s simply an indication that something in your world isn’t right.
As simplistic as all this might sound, it isn’t to suggest that all cases of anger – or, more especially, their causes – bear the same weight. Some triggers are recurring and harder to avoid, and we have very limited control over whether the offender is repentant or willing to recognise the pain which results from their actions. As true as that may be, I don’t believe the principle changes in those cases. The truth remains that “our anger” is ours to manage, and sometimes the only solution is to remove ourselves from the source of the pain, for a fixed period or even permanently, to do what is required for the pain to have a chance to heal. But, even then, our response must be solution-focused and not simply determined by our emotional state, which is a variable that alters as it is exposed to different stimuli.
Lastly, there are often clues to be found in the things we respond to in anger about unresolved issues from our past – oftentimes from childhood when we were too young to know better – so adopting the punitive, instantly gratifying approach to dealing with anger also robs us of the chance to learn more about ourselves and to realistically outline the path to the future of our dreams. People will cause us pain – there’s no getting away from that – but they don’t have the power to rob us of our “self-control” unless we cede it to them. By all means be angry, but don’t presume your actions in that state absolve you of responsibility.